This former Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) spokesperson had a largely uncritical, receptive audience for his talk. Attendees included well-known, interrelated activists from the capital's anti-Zionist scene, including Shelley Cohen-Fudge from the fringe organization Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP). She sat beside Jamal Najjab from American Muslims for Palestine (AMP), an organization ideologically tied to Hamas, and near Zeina Azzam, a former director of the Israel-bashing Jerusalem Fund. Steve France joined his fellow Episcopalians Tom Getman, a former World Vision executive who played a key role in turning that Christian charity against Israel, and the Palestinian-American Philip Farah.
While acknowledging the historic connection between Jews and modern Israel would seem to refute Khalidi's premise of Zionism as a colonial enterprise, he remained undeterred.
Khalidi seemed to invalidate his entire thesis as he conceded that "Zionism is one of the most successful national movements in modern history." Zionism, he said, "is based on a real, legitimate, ancient, biblical connection between Judaism and Jews and the land of Israel." Thus "Zionism could plausibly claim to be not just settling somewhere, but reviving Jewish polity in the land of their forefathers rather than establishing an entirely new entity."
While acknowledging the historic connection between Jews and modern Israel would seem to refute Khalidi's premise of Zionism as a colonial enterprise, he remained undeterred. Khalidi sophistically noted a historic Zionist self-conception as colonists, beginning with Theodor Herzl overseeing the first Zionist congress in 1897 and continuing until after World War II, when "colonialism came out of fashion." This analysis confuses Zionist "redemption" of a Jewish homeland through settlement, a means, with an illegitimate end, namely colonialism, a form of imperialism.
His ominous reference to the 1891-founded Jewish Colonization Association (JCA) as an agency that purchased land for Zionist settlement in Palestine further revealed his fallacies. JCA originally sought to create agricultural communities for oppressed East European Jews in places like Brazil and the United States and only later became involved in Zionism. By contrast, the Zionist movement under Herzl founded in 1901 the land-purchasing Jewish National Fund, a self-proclaimed "vital part of Zionist history."
Khalidi's sly distortions also slander Herzl, as Khalidi claimed that Zionism's founding father had written in his diary that that any Arabs in a Jewish homeland would be "spirited away." Khalidi thereby reiterated a common anti-Zionist canard that involves a deeply deceptive mangling of an 1895 Herzl diary entry that did not support any idea of ethnic cleansing, which he had consistently opposed. Likewise Khalidi emphasized that right-wing Zionist Zeev Jabotinsky had written that an Arab "indigenous population will fight us" in "our country," but Khalidi omitted how this classical liberal envisioned integrating Arabs into a Jewish state.
Examining a "settler-colonial conflict," Khalidi inverted traditional conceptions of a small, beleaguered Israel and argued that the "Goliath in this story is a constellation of forces, mainly international," facing a Palestinian "David." He argued that the world's fickle great powers always supported Israel, even though the United Kingdom's relationship with the Jewish nation has varied widely since the 1917 Balfour Declaration. The Soviet Union similarly critically aided Israel's birth in 1947-1948 before later becoming a key enemy, while France abandoned its longstanding military relationship with Israel in 1967 in order to curry Arab favor. Although Khalidi said the "United States has been a full party to" an Israeli war against Palestinians since the 1967 Six Day War, the American-Israeli strategic relationship has developed over time, and not without complications.
Arabs among the originally sparse population in the Palestine Mandate's territory did not regularly claim a unique Palestinian identity until the 1960s.
The absence of "Palestinians" in the Balfour Declaration or the post-World War I League of Nations Palestine Mandate under the British further exposed Khalidi's reliance on anachronisms. He considered it a "declaration of war" to "say to a people, 'you don't exist, we are not mentioning you, we are not consulting you, and your country is to have self-determination for another people." Yet Arabs among the originally sparse population in the Palestine Mandate's territory did not regularly claim a unique Palestinian identity until the 1960s.
Khalidi also complained that in UN Security Council Resolution 242 following the 1967 Six Day War, Palestinians or Arabs "don't even merit mention" in the resolution's context of a "refugee problem." He favored a "right of return" for millions of Arabs descended from refugees since Israel's 1948 independence war, a demand that even the New York Times reviewer called "fanciful." Yet the resolution's drafters intended to include both these Arab "refugees" as well as Jewish refugees who fled persecution in Arab countries in the decades following Israel's creation.
These and other historically pro-Zionist Mizrachi Jews from the Middle East and North Africa now form about half of Israel's population, yet Khalidi falsely asserted that Palestinian "history is determined by what Hitler does." Referencing European antisemitism leading up to Nazi genocide in World War II, he claimed that Zionism results from "a specific set of persecutions in a specific place, not Palestine, and those traumas are then moved to Palestine." He thus exclusively focused on European dangers to global Jewry (to which Muslims contributed during Nazism) while ignoring Islamic antisemitism, and overlooking Jewish attachment to Zionism beyond self-preservation.
These and other misrepresentations riddled Khalidi's presentation, but, fortunately for him, the audience consisted primarily of fans and fellow anti-Israel activists, not objective observers. The prevalence of individuals like Khalidi in Middle East studies not only corrupts academia, but abets falsifications that make achieving peace with the Jewish nation-state harder. As even the New York Times's review argued, in following people such as Khalidi, given his uncompromising hostility toward Israel, the Palestinian conflict with Israel "is likely to be an eternal one."
Andrew E. Harrod is a Campus Watch Fellow, freelance researcher, and writer who holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a J.D. from George Washington University Law School. He is a fellow with the Lawfare Project. Follow him on Twitter at @AEHarrod.